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Cyber Defense

Army turns to Plan X to defend against cyber threats

The Army is working with The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop new visualization technology that quickly identifies and defends against emerging cyber threats, such as phishing attacks, malware and viruses.

By creating a visual representation of cyberspace and its many users, Invincea’s Plan X defense platform is designed to immediately recognize threats and improve cyber warfare technology.

DARPA has been partnering with Invincea Labs LLC, Arlington, VA, to create Plan X since 2013.  Their partnership was formed out of the military’s need to expand their cyber capabilities to protect U.S. military networks from more advanced attacks.  

The main concept of Plan X is to create a general battle-command platform, across all departments, so the Army can defend itself against cyber attacks.  

Creators emphasize that this project is not for developing offensive cyber technologies; it is explicitly being developed for defensive purposes.  

Plan X technology was created through a collaboration with Invincea programmers and the Army's Training and Doctrine Command.  Together, they were able to translate complex codes and cyber commands into military specific terminology, visuals, and concepts so the platform is user-friendly. It is designed to let operators defend against cyber threats and attacks through the same ways they were trained to on a physical battlefield.  

Program developers had the military decision-making process in mind when creating the technology and worked to make it easily navigable for an anticipated 6,000 new Cyber Command personnel.

To best suit the minds of military personnel, rather than that of a programmer, Plan X compiles cyber battle concepts, including a network map, operational unit, and the capability to plan, execute, and measure the activity of military operations in cyberspace.  

In the event of a cyberattack, users are able to choose a code—that has been labeled and stored in a collection similar to Apple’s App Store—and drag and drop it to their network where they will see a visual representation of the attacker being removed.  

Netstat is one example of the many Plan X apps.  Netstat displays statistics on hosts in a user’s network, allowing for quick detection of an attacker.  This is one of the many ways in which Plan X creates a virtual reality to monitor the user’s cyberspace and the enemies who may invade it. 

The Plan X platform also includes an advanced form of machine learning, called deep learning. This enables the program to recognize malware—even new variants—in one department, learn the defenses necessary to block the threat, and then communicate that information across the entire platform in real-time, creating one Common Operating Picture and providing the next-generation of antivirus defense.  

On September 14 Invincea received an additional $20,517,535 cost-plus-fixed-fee completion modification to their initial, $120 million, contract with DARPA.  This award is in exchange for additional services, including expanding Plan X capabilities and customizing the platform to best meet the defensive cyber needs of the U.S. Army.

Although developed for the use of the U.S. military, Plan X will also be available to the private sector for cyber defense.  

Development of this software is taking place in Arlington, VA and is projected to be completed by 2018.  From there, it will be up to policymakers to determine how to use the cyber capabilities that Plan X provides.

About the Author

Morgan Cole is a freelance writer for Defense Systems

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